International Association for Impact Assessment


  • Learn more about the Volunteers of IEMA with Dr. Rufus Howard.

    Recently, IAIA CEO Gary Baker sat down with Dr. Rufus Howard, representing the Volunteers of IEMA, the recipient of IAIA’s 2024 Regional Award.  Watch the interview now, and find the full transcript of the conversation below.

    Gary Baker, IAIA CEO: Hello everyone, and welcome to our series on the award winners for 2024. Today, I'm pleased that we have a representative from Volunteers of IEMA, Rufus Howard, here to accept the Regional Award and describe a little bit more about IEMA. This is an award where we find exceptional performance or activities from organizations involved in impact assessment. Rufus, very nice to meet you, and thank you for joining us. The award is quite specifically to the Volunteers of IEMA. Can you describe some of the particular challenges, or what you are proudest of in recent times as to what these volunteers have achieved?

    Dr. Rufus Howard, representing the Volunteers of IEMA: Thanks, Gary. Just to put it in context, IEMA as an institute has over 20,000 members, and within that, about 5,000 of those are interested in impact assessment, planning, and infrastructure. Then within that, there's maybe 500 who are really active in working groups, developing guidance, etc. They come from all sectors and professional backgrounds. We started our first guidance in about 1993. We have been at it a long while, but I think that's really stepped up in recent years, particularly since about 2017; we have gotten more organized, gotten more working groups, etc. We have published guidance on health in EIA -- scoping health, significance of health. We have guidance on climate and GHGs in EIA. We did what I thought was quite a groundbreaking guidance on considering soils in EIA. Recently, we updated our 1993 traffic guidance with a 2023 version, 30 years later -- that was a good milestone. Another thing we've been doing since early 2018 is developing a practitioner journal and that's on volume 20 now. I'm really pleased about that. It is not an academic journal – it is viewpoints from practitioners on different sectors and topics, etc. That's really a highlight reel of recent times. Just one final bit is that although traditionally we focus more on best practice guidance and learning and continuing professional development, we've become more active in recent years in public affairs, responding to government consultations, etc. In recent years, particularly in the UK, we've been doing a lot of responses to government reform.

    Gary: Clearly UK government has been pretty active in terms of trying to shift some of the focus onto this outcomes framework. Has that been a challenge to try and arrive at a sort of a single viewpoint from an association in terms of those consultations? How does that happen?

    Rufus: For those who aren't aware, the proposals are to, certainly in England, revoke EIA and SEA and replace it with environmental outcome reports. That's had a mixed reception amongst the members. In terms of the high level, the principle of moving from impact mitigation to environmental enhancement, we are in favor of that as a concept. We think that's a good direction of travel. However, the actual proposals in many ways look like a reduction in environmental assessment and scope of the EIA as well, bringing back some of the health, climate, and social stuff, which we see as the areas we need to be improving rather than reducing. It seems that, as it's so far been shaped up, probably retrograde steps. Therefore the IEMA membership and other stakeholders in the UK have gone back to the government saying that while some of the high-level ambition is supported, the actual practical proposals currently are not well supported.

    Gary: How has that been achieved? Through working groups, then drafts, and finally, open consultation and submitting, I presume?

    Rufus: We have an elected steering group of 15 members who serve three-year terms. They are the main governance body. Above that, there's another governance body within IEMA, which sits above all the networks. And then we have something in the UK called the EIA Quality Mark, which IEMA runs. It has 60 organizations that have signed up to best practice and impact assessments. Through them, we have access to hundreds of impact assessment practitioners. We also share policy responses with other like-minded institutions like the Royal Town Planning Institute and others. We talk to each other within related professions. It's a combination of expert workshops, steering groups, working groups, and consultations with members.

    Gary: One final question, bringing it back to the volunteer ethos of this. You personally have various commitments as well in terms of consultancy and other advisory work. What can you say that you've gotten from being a volunteer or leading these volunteers? I think that's the essence of the organization.

    Rufus: Personally, I joined as a graduate in 2004 when I got my first job in consultancy after university, and I've worked my way through the membership grades and am now a Fellow. Over that time, I've been a volunteer. I was elected to an Advisory Board at one point, where I served for about six years. I was the Chairman of the Impact Assessment Network for three years (an elected position). I'm currently the Policy Lead for Impact Assessment. But to put that into context, there's only one impact assessment person at the Institute, which is me, and I'm part-time. Everything is done by volunteers, all unpaid, and certainly I continue to do that and have done a lot of that over the years. It's incredible the amount of work and the quality of that work.

    To give you an idea, we have been approached by the governments of Iceland, Nigeria, and Jordan, asking, can we draw on your guidance? Can we develop our own version of your guidance? There was a recent Supreme Court case in the UK, and the lawyers referenced the IEMA guidance as the go-to guidance in this area. Although none of our guidance is a legal requirement or national policy, the quality of it means that it is considered by the courts and the planning inspector to be the de facto way to do impact assessment. That's a testament to all of the effort and hours that those volunteers put in.

    Gary: Rufus, thank you very much for spending a bit of time explaining that. A very richly deserved award to the Volunteers of IEMA. I look forward to seeing you in Dublin. Thanks very much.

    Rufus: Looking forward to it. Thank you so much, Gary.

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